September 11, 2012

Renewable energy ballot proposal foes: No ‘arbitrary’ standard in Michigan constitution

By Eric Gaertner | 10 September 2012

MUSKEGON, MI – An organized opposition group and the consulting firm hired to research the issue contend that the statewide proposal called “25 by 25” would unnecessarily bind the future of Michigan’s energy industry.

Former Republican Michigan Senate Majority Leader Ken Sikkema, now a senior policy fellow with Public Sector Consultants, told the editorial board of MLive and The Muskegon Chronicle on Monday afternoon that the proposed constitutional amendment is “radical” and would make Michigan the only state to constitutionally mandate a renewable energy standard.

“Energy policy is extremely complex,” Sikkema said, pointing to his experience as a state legislator. “It changes far more often then we’d like. The state needs the flexibility, which it can’t get if it’s locked into the constitution.”

Public Sector Consultants was hired to complete a study on the issue by Clean Affordable Renewable Energy for Michigan Coalition, a group of about 180 organizations and individuals led by Consumers Energy and DTE Energy.

Michigan voters are set to vote on the “25 by 25” ballot issue, called Proposal 3 this year, during the Nov. 6 general election. The proposal would amend the state’s constitution to require that at least 25 percent of the state’s energy comes from renewable sources by 2025.

The state currently operates under a renewable portfolio standard of 10 percent by 2015 based on a statute approved by the Legislature and signed into law by the governor in 2008.

Michigan Energy Michigan Jobs, the group promoting the ballot proposal, submitted nearly 530,000 petition signatures in July to get the issue on the ballot.

Eric Justian, a member of the West Michigan Jobs Group that is promoting sustainable industry in the region, said he supports the ballot proposal. He is set to meet with the editorial board soon to discuss supporters’ views of the proposed constitutional amendment.

Justian said the jobs factor is important to him. He pointed out that Muskegon recently shipped out turbine parts to Spain and he has talked to several people who make components for wind turbines or solar panels.

“I know for a fact that this is an industry that is putting people to work,” Justian said.

In addition to requiring 25 percent from renewable sources, the proposed constitutional amendment language calls for energy providers to limit rate increases to a maximum of 1 percent per year while producing power from wind, solar, biomass or hydropower.

Sikkema said the group organized against the ballot proposal supports renewable energy, but not an “arbitrary” standard in Michigan’s Constitution. He said he personally would like to see the current renewable portfolio standard law play out and then be evaluated.

“I would stay the course, do the re-evaluation in 2015 and see what changes need to be made,” Sikkema said.

The Public Sector Consultants issued a report based on its study. In addition to questioning the impact of putting energy policy in the Constitution, the report contends that electricity costs and rates would increase, the definition of renewable energy is too restrictive without such items as landfill gas or energy efficiency and the potential job creation is unclear for the ballot proposal.

Job creation is a key element highlighted by the ballot proposal supporters. Michigan State University economists and academics released a study showing that increasing Michigan’s renewable energy standard to 25 percent by 2025 can create thousands of Michigan jobs and generate $10.3 billion in new investments.

The Public Sector Consultants report counters that those job projections are not net jobs, failing to reflect any potential job losses from higher business costs and business relocation out of the state due to potentially higher utility rates.

Supporters of the proposal also say the amendment would reduce pollution that causes or exacerbates health complications.

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